Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Messaging: Know the Difference

Customer service has embraced messaging, and each new generation of customers prefers it more and more. But messaging isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are different types of messaging interactions—and they each have their own use cases.

Asynchronous and synchronous messaging are two ways to engage your customers, but what’s the difference? Keep reading to see what they are and how they differ from each other.

What’s the difference between asynchronous and synchronous messaging?

Before we dive into dissecting the differences between asynchronous and synchronous messaging, let’s define them in simple and clear terms.

What is synchronous messaging?

Synchronous messaging is a live conversation that has a clearly defined beginning and end. Both parties must be actively engaging in the conversation at the same time, whether on their phone or at their keyboard.

Think synchronized swimming or synchronized skating. The key is being in the same place at the same time doing the thing.

What is asynchronous messaging?

Asynchronous messaging is synchronous messaging’s literal opposite. It’s when two parties have a conversation, but they don’t have to be present at the same time. Another hallmark of asynchronous messaging is that there’s not a clearly defined ending to the conversation.

Think about text messaging with your friends and family. If you are both available, the conversation can go back and forth seamlessly. But you could also have the same conversation over a longer period of time while you’re both fully engaged at work.

Synchronous messaging 101

Live chat (also known as web chat) is the best example of synchronous messaging. When customers reach out via web chat, they expect an immediate response. But there are a few other messaging mediums that can be handled in real-time, such as:

Challenges of synchronous messaging.

Synchronous messaging comes with a hefty set of challenges. Here are some problems your team can face when relying solely on this type of messaging.

  • Customers spend more time waiting: During busy periods, agents won’t be able to handle multiple conversations at the same time, and wait times can increase.
  • Agents can only handle one conversation at a time: The key factor in a synchronous conversation is that both parties are there chatting in real-time. That means your agents won’t be able to juggle multiple conversations at once, making them slower overall.
  • It’s harder to solve complex problems: When agents don’t have the expertise to solve a problem in the moment, it’s harder to loop in support. If you’re working with an inferior conversational platform, customers may have to repeat themselves with each new support agent they speak with. Customers may also have to wait on hold until an expert is available to help them.
  • Customers can’t get answers outside of business hours: Customers are used to getting what they want when they want it. Since agents need to be present for synchronous conversations, customers can only chat during business hours. The alternative, of course, is to hire more agents to work shifts throughout the day.
  • It can cost more money: Since agents can’t handle as many conversations at once, you’ll likely need to hire more agents to cover the same amount of calls.

Benefits of synchronous messaging.

Despite its challenges, synchronous messaging has its place in customer service. Here are a few of the benefits you can expect:

  • Customers feel more connected: Since conversations are happening in real-time, customers instantly feel more engaged and connected to support agents. They feel like there’s a real person on the other side of the screen instead of a corporate automaton.
  • It’s easy to track performance: Since there’s a defined beginning and end, it’s easier to track metrics like average resolution time.
  • Faster resolutions: Simple problems can be resolved faster over synchronous messaging. Customers are available to answer questions immediately so small issues don’t get dragged out.

Asynchronous messaging 101

Many of today’s messaging options are asynchronous, in that both parties don’t have to be present at the same time to hold a conversation.

Some examples of asynchronous messaging are:

Benefits of asynchronous messaging.

When comparing asynchronous messaging vs. synchronous messaging, asynchronous messaging outmatches its counterpart and has benefits for both your customers and your customer service team.

Here are some benefits for your customers:

  • Customers can multitask: Since conversations happen at the customer’s convenience, customers can go about their days while receiving help from your team. They’re not locked into a phone conversation or waiting on hold while your agents find answers. It’s a much more pleasurable experience for your busy customers.
  • Customers don’t have to repeat information: One of the biggest benefits for customers is not having to repeat themselves every time they contact customer service. Asynchronous messaging’s big draw is that it creates an ongoing conversation. Agents should have access to the conversation history, making it easy for anyone to pick up the conversation seamlessly.
  • Customers can reach out at any time: Asynchronous messaging enables continuous contact between your customers and your service agents. That means customers can pick up conversations at any point in their purchase journey—not just when problems pop up.

Here are just a few ways it improves your customer service teams’ workflows over synchronous messaging:

  • Agents can manage several conversations at once: Since conversations happen at a slower pace, agents can handle more than one at a time. They’re not stuck on one call or chat thread, at the mercy of a chatty customer. Conversational AI platforms, like Quiq, help agents manage multiple conversations—up to eight at once.
  • Agents show improved efficiency: Since agents can handle simultaneous conversations, they can move between customers to maximize their time and improve their overall efficiency. Agents spend less time per interaction, saving as much as 25–40% when converting calls to messaging.
  • Lower costs for your customer service center: Since agents are working faster and helping multiple customers at once, you need fewer agents to manage your customer service. Instead, you can spend money on better training, higher quality tools, or expanding services.
  • Chatbot friendly: It’s easy to integrate chatbots with asynchronous messaging. During busy periods, chatbots can welcome customers and gather information so that when agents are available, they can jump right into solving the issue.

Challenges of asynchronous messaging.

Asynchronous messaging does come with a few challenges.

  • It can turn short conversations into long ones: Sometimes a customer just has a simple question. But once they’ve asked the question, your agent has their own follow-up question, and the customer responds, hours or even days may have passed. It’s not your agent’s fault, but it could reflect in longer resolution times and increase the number of open tickets on their docket.
  • It’s harder to track: Since asynchronous messaging often doesn’t have a clear beginning or end, it can be hard to measure.
  • Agents have to be able to multitask: Having multiple conversations at the same time, and switching seamlessly between them, is a skill. If not trained properly, agents can get overwhelmed, and it can show in their customer communications.

Implementing synchronous and asynchronous messaging.

Despite their differences (or because of them), both synchronous and asynchronous messaging have a place in your customer service strategy.

When to use synchronous messaging.

Despite its challenges, synchronous messaging has its place in your customer service strategy. Here are a few examples of when you should use synchronous messaging:

  • When customers need quick answers: There’s no better reason to use synchronous messaging than when customers need quick, immediate answers. This is especially true if customers are on the verge of making a purchase. Maybe they’re asking about shipping costs, refund policies, or product size. They need a quick answer so that they feel confident enough to click that buy button.
  • When diffusing difficult situations: As much as we try to mitigate customer issues, they happen to everyone. Upset customers don’t want to wait for replies while they go about their day. They want immediate responses so they can get their needs met.
  • When troubleshooting issues with customers: It’s much easier to walk customers through troubleshooting in real-time, instead of stretching out the conversation over hours or days.

When to use asynchronous messaging.

Asynchronous messaging is best used when customer issues aren’t immediate. Here are a few use cases:

  • For complex issues: When customers come to your service team with more complex issues, asynchronous messaging really shines. It enables multiple agents and experts to jump in and out of the chat seamlessly, without requiring customers to wait on hold or repeat their information.
  • For building relationships: Asynchronous messaging is a great way to build customer relationships. Since there’s no clear ending, customers can continue to go back to the same chat and have conversations throughout their customer journey.
  • During busy periods: When your customer service team is overwhelmed, asynchronous messaging allows them to prioritize customer issues and handle the most timely ones first. Conversational AI platforms like Quiq can also gauge customers’ sentiments to determine who needs immediate attention and who can wait for a response.

Embrace asynchronous and synchronous messaging.

Now you know how asynchronous and synchronous messaging compare, you can use both to create a winning customer service experience.

Asynchronous Messaging: How to Use it to Deliver Exceptional Customer Service

Messaging is good. Asynchronous messaging is better.

Let’s face it. Customers have little tolerance for inconveniences of any kind. Whether that’s waiting around for a response, repeating information, or finding an immediate solution to their problem.

Customer service teams aim to serve, so having the available channels to give customers the exact experience they want is crucial to increasing customer satisfaction.

What is asynchronous messaging?

Imagine you’re the customer. You’re busy but need help returning a pair of boots (that just aren’t your style) that your well-meaning dad bought you for your birthday. A completely random example…

You reach out to the live chat service on the eCommerce website to initiate the return, but you’re interrupted midway through the conversation. There’s an immediate work problem that needs your attention. The kids are fighting. The sky is falling. Whatever it may be, you have to start the process all over again.

Frustrating, right? It’s just a simple return!

Well, asynchronous messaging (sometimes called async messaging or asynchronous chat) takes the stress out of that conversation. It doesn’t require both parties to be present at the same time to complete the interaction. You can simply jump back in once you’ve taken care of life’s responsibilities. This is asynchronous messaging at its best.

SMS/text messages, WhatsApp, and Facebook Chat are all prime examples of asynchronous messaging in action. Conversations can start, stop, and resume whenever either person is available.

At the other end of the spectrum is synchronous messaging. It’s typically a live, one-to-one chat between a customer and a customer service representative.

What makes it so different? There’s usually a clear beginning and end to a synchronous chat. A customer reaches out with a specific question or to find a solution to their problem, and the conversation ends once those needs are met.

Think of it like a typical phone interaction—just using messaging instead of voice. And since synchronous messaging is so similar to phone interactions, it often comes with the same drawbacks.

  • Customers have to wait for a live agent.
  • If the agent can’t answer a question, the customer has to be rerouted.
  • Agents can only serve one person at a time.
  • Complex problems take up more of your agents’ time.
  • If a customer gets interrupted, the chat ends without a resolution.

Now that you know what asynchronous messaging is, keep reading to learn about the benefits for your customers, your support team, and your bottom line.

Getting started: 7 benefits of asynchronous messaging.

Think of asynchronous messaging somewhere between live chat and email. Customers typically expect a quick—but not instant—response. This flexibility allows your team to deliver exceptional customer service in a time that works for the customer and your team.

But that’s not the only benefit. Here are seven benefits of adding asynchronous messaging to your customer service arsenal.

  1. Customers can fit you into their busy days. Life is busy. We’re always multitasking. There are too many distractions—it’s a lot. Asynchronous messaging gives customers the flexibility to fit you into their schedules. They don’t have to block time out of their day for a lengthy live chat or wait for business hours to get someone on the phone. Instead, they can get their support requests taken care of on their own time, at their own pace.
  2. Less wait time. Since agents can jump in and out of multiple conversations—as many as 30 at a time—customers spend less time “on hold” waiting to connect with a live agent. And that is really important to customers. Zendesk reports that over 60% say getting their issues resolved quickly is the most important aspect of good customer service. With asynchronous messaging, customers can get answers while going about their day.
  3. No repeated information. One of the things that frustrates customers the most is to have to repeat their problem. No matter whether they get disconnected from a live chat or transferred to multiple people before they get an answer to their problem, repeating themselves almost always leads to a bad experience. With asynchronous messaging and a conversational platform behind it, customers (and agents) can pick up the conversation right where they left off. There’s no information lost between sessions. Their conversation history is available for agents to reference at any time.
  4. Resolve problems in less time. While asynchronous messaging potentially drags out conversations (depending on how quickly your customers respond), agents often spend less working time per interaction. Quiq clients can reduce work time by 25–40% when converting calls to messaging. This is because agents can quickly address those frequently asked questions that don’t necessarily require a phone call (think password reset process and hours of operations). Simple problems get solved faster, while more complex problems have the breathing room to come to a thorough resolution.
  5. Prioritize customer requests. During peak times, when your team is truly overwhelmed, asynchronous messaging helps your agents triage customer requests. Collect customer information, sentiment, and problem upfront to determine how quickly the problem needs to be addressed. A customer service agent can immediately help an angry customer with a simple problem and close out the ticket quickly. While a neutral person with a more complex question can wait a little longer for your agents to figure out the right response.Asynchronous messaging agent efficiency customer engagement performance channels sms facebook instagram whatsapp conversations
  6. Meet support demands with fewer agents. Much like phone calls, synchronous messaging requires one agent per customer interaction. To meet demand and avoid long wait times, you need a higher volume of staff members at all times. This also means that you likely have to hire extra team members to support peak times. Asynchronous messaging can help with that. Since your support team can take part in multiple conversations at once, you can serve more customers with fewer agents. This is particularly helpful now when baseline support ticket requests have gone up 20% since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Zendesk.
  7. Get more opportunities to initiate a conversation. Since conversations are more flexible, customers are more likely to engage with customer service reps at different stages within the the customer lifecycle. Customers don’t have to set aside big chunks of time for conversations and your team will have more context to help serve them better. From starting a conversation from Maps with Apple Messages for Business or using Facebook Messenger to ask about size options, there’s ample opportunity to serve customers and increase revenue.

How to make the most out of asynchronous messaging.

Messaging as a whole has significantly grown in popularity since the pandemic began, and it has done so at a faster rate than any other channel. Support tickets coming in from messaging channels rose by 48%, compared to a 15% increase from live chat.

If you haven’t embraced asynchronous messaging yet, we have a few best practices to shape your approach and help you get started.

  • Design your asynchronous messaging strategy around your agents waiting for the customer—not the other way around. While it gives your agents the ability to manage multiple conversations, the benefit should really be for the customers’ flexibility. If you use asynchronous chat to spread your team too thin, the experience can end up feeling like email, which no one likes.
  • One way to improve response times and decrease the time agents spend per interaction? Use a chatbot to welcome customers and collect pertinent information beforehand. This way, customers get served quickly, and agents can spend their time problem-solving instead of gathering information.
  • Want to stand out? Don’t treat messaging like email. In 2020, Zendesk reported that it takes more than 11 hours, on average, to close messaging tickets. That’s compared to 30 minutes for voice and live chat and 11.5 hours for email or web form tickets.
    While messaging gives your team more flexibility to respond, customers still expect a response time in under 5 minutes. Try staffing it as you would with voice and live chat to start. Then, adjust as your team becomes more efficient and you invest in other ways to streamline service.
  • Remember to track actual work time. Overall, asynchronous messaging will have high-resolution times since you can resolve issues in two minutes, two hours, or two days. Giving customers the freedom to respond at their own convenience can superficially elevate those numbers. But remember: if a customer is responsible for the delay, a two-day conversation can result in a lower work time and a higher customer satisfaction rate. So take resolution times with a grain of salt. A conversational platform like Quiq can help you measure actual work time.

Start using asynchronous messaging and deliver stellar customer service.

With customers flocking to messaging channels, it’s a great time for your customer service team to adopt asynchronous messaging. The best way to set your team up for success? With a conversational platform, like Quiq.

Turn any messaging channel into an asynchronous experience. With Quiq, you can:

  • Manage conversations across multiple channels
  • Serve customers based on sentiment
  • Increase agent efficiency and boost customer satisfaction

Sign up for a Quiq demo and see how it can help you deploy asynchronous messaging and elevate your customer service.